China carried out its 29th orbital launch in a busy year to boost the country’s remote sensing and satellite mapping capabilities.
A Long March 4B rocket lifted off from Taiyuan, in northern China, at 6:32 p.m. EDT on August 18 (2232 GMT, 6:32 local time on August 18) rising into a hazy sky. The insulation tiles were illuminated as they fell from the rocket body and near the rocket plume.
US space tracking data indicated that the two Tianhui-2 (02) satellites were in a near-polar orbit about 318 miles (511 kilometers) above Earth.
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Little information about the satellites was released before or after the launch. Chinese state media noted the pair were intended for “scientific experiments and research, land and resource surveying, and geographic surveying and mapping.”
A paper published in the Journal of Surveying and Mapping reports that the Tianhui-2 satellite system is China’s first microwave satellite surveying and mapping system.
The two satellites will orbit in formation, mapping the Earth so that their respective data can be combined to create 3D maps with a resolution of around 9.8 feet (3 meters). The document also compares the system to the German TanDEM-X and the TerraSAR-X combination launched in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
The Tianhui-2 (02) satellites and the Long March 4B rocket were developed and manufactured by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST), a major subsidiary of China’s leading space and defense contractor, China Aerospace Science. and Technology Company (CASC).
A previous pair Tianhui-2 (Group 01) satellites were launched in April 2019 and have also been described as for science experiments, land resource study, geographic study, and mapping.
China also launched the Tianhui-1 (04) satellite on July 29 from Jiuquan in northwest China.
The country has launched 29 times so far in 2021, and more than 40 are slated for the year by China’s public space sector. The main missions included the Tianhe space station module and the Shenzhou 12 crewed mission.
A new space station cargo mission, Tianzhou 3, is being prepared for a mid-September launch to deliver supplies ahead of the Shenzhou 13 mission in October. Private and commercial companies are also planning their own launches.
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